On Saturday 30th October, John Howell, the Chairman of the Dartmoor Preservation Association and John Skinner, one of the Association’s trustees, led a walk to celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the creation of the Dartmoor National Park. Before the walkers set off, John Howell said a few words about why the walk was taking place:

In 1883 the first calls to protect Dartmoor from enclosure were heard and the Dartmoor Preservation Association was created, with early members including well-known Dartmoor figures such as Robert Burnard and Sabine Baring-Gould.

Preservation of access and the protection of common land against enclosure were the primary aims of the DPA and other objectives included the protection of the landscape, the archaeology and the cultural history. In 1888, R. Hansford Worth presented a paper to Plymouth Institution that was fiercely critical of the Duchy of Cornwall’s land management practices. Seven years later, Robert Burnard delivered a speech on “Plundered Dartmoor”, highlighting the rapid growth in threats to the region and advocating its acquisition by Devon County Council. The council did not act on his suggestion, but half a century later, Dartmoor was finally given some protection as one of the country’s most important designated landscapes.

The long journey to the creation of Dartmoor and the other National Parks included three key reports: Addison (1931), Dower (1938) and Hobhouse (1947). The severe financial issues between the World Wars slowed the progress to creating national parks.

On 30 October 1951, the Designation Order was signed creating Dartmoor National Park and the key purposes of the national parks are ‘to preserve and enhance its natural beauty and to promote its enjoyment by the public. The Designation Order was one of the last acts of the post-war Labour Government.

The DPA and Ramblers generally welcome the activities of Dartmoor National Park to protect this important landscape. However, there are times where we need to tell them that they may have got it wrong.

Although today is a celebration, it is also one of those occasions. You may be aware of the byelaw review which is currently taking place. It is a well-intentioned exercise but may be seen as an over-reaction to the problems of anti-social behaviour during the last eighteen months, before during and after the restrictive lockdowns which curtailed travelling.

The byelaws do need updating as they have not been reviewed for 35 years, but some of the changes, their lack of clarity and potential effect may be seen as very restrictive on legitimate activities on the Moor and may adversely impact responsible and sensible users of the Moor.

Two years on from the Glover Report on Protected Landscapes, the Government has still not announced when the consultation will take place on its proposals. We still do not know the full detail on landscape management to promote nature recovery and how public benefits like clean water, carbon storage, improved biodiversity and public access are to be delivered. There is talk of the English National Parks being replaced by a National Landscape Service, which may have different views on the byelaws to be applied. Therefore, I believe this may be the wrong time to undertake the byelaw review.

It is important that people’s voices are heard during this consultation. If you have not already done so, please go on to the DNPA website and make your comments known on the byelaw proposals.